When is Apple going to open up?

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Giles Turnbull

Giles Turnbull
Oct. 03, 2005 01:21 PM
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We Mac users are often given to gushing. It's easy for us to lean over someone's shoulder as their Windows laptop shudders to a halt with a Blue Screen of Death, and whisper: "There's a better way, you know. My Mac never does that."

And it's easy for us to scoff at Windows Explorer, to point and laugh at Outlook Express, and to roll our eyes skywards when we hear about Yet Another Virus. We have it so good, we tell our Windows-bound buddies, because we use Mac OS X. We have great software, a great OS, great applications, and none of that rubbish with viruses.

But you know what? There's something that Microsoft is doing much better than Apple. Not only doing it better, but improving with each and every day that goes by. It is a cutting-edge activity for large corporations, something that few businesses today have even tried, let alone got right. But Microsoft has got it right and is reaping the benefits.

What is this mysterious activity I'm talking about?

Opening up.

Microsoft is opening up like no other company I have ever seen. Just take a look at all the detailed information about Office 12 and Windows Vista that is coming out on weblogs written by the coders and managers working on each project.

These weblogs are not professional PR. They are not written by flacks on behalf of the coding team. They are not full of dumb marketing speak and pointless slogans.

But they are full of detail, full of facts, full of stories of success and sometimes failure. When something goes wrong, these MS webloggers tell their audience about it, they fess up. Then they get back to work, and fix the problem.

As a result of their open policy, we know a great deal about forthcoming versions of Windows and the applications that will run on it.

No other company the size of Microsoft is opening up to this extent. Most companies a fraction of Microsoft's size are terrified of being so open.

But I think it's about time we collectively recognised that MS is right at the leading edge of corporate communication, using weblogs as a tool to directly connect MS employees with users, Windows developers, and excitable nerds. Microsoft is going on a journey as it works on Vista, and its customers are being invited to tag along.

This is business weblogging the way it should be done. Microsoft hasn't insisted that all the staff blogs are on the same site, nor that they should all look alike, nor even that they should carry the MS logo. Instead, they are found in all sorts of places - some on blogs.msdn.com, some on msn.com, some completely independent ones (the best-known and most obvious being Robert Scoble's Scobelizer). The company webloggers have been allowed to get on with it, to get the information out there. They haven't been held back by branding, or the need for senior management to approve what's OK to post, and what's not. (I have no doubt that there are some things internally declared "Unsuitable for weblogging", but what remains is far more than most companies would normally be prepared to reveal.)

Compare with Apple's corporate communication strategy. Apple releases information when it is ready to, on its terms. Steve makes a keynote speech at some conference, and within minutes apple.com has been updated. Otherwise, Apple tends to remain silent, unless it wants to say something.

I think it's about time Apple opened up. I think Apple's most valuable asset, the coders and designers and developers who work inside 1 Infinite Loop, should be allowed the same kind of freedom that Microsoft has granted its employees. Wouldn't it be nice if we Apple users could watch Leopard take shape, and comment on its progress, rather than meekly accepting it as a finished product when the launch day arrives?

Giles Turnbull is a freelance writer and editor. He has been writing on and about the Internet since 1997. He has a web site at http://gilest.org.